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OC Register: Alexander: Are you saying there’s a chance for the Dodgers and Angels? …

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This Space called it, two springs ago. And, well, sometimes you’re on target and sometimes you throw it to the backstop.

From the editions of March 29, 2018:

“It is the beauty of spring training. When it ends, everyone is still undefeated. 

“So, in that spirit of optimism, why not indulge that wild dream that Southern California baseball fans have harbored for the better part of six decades? The Dodgers and Angels, playing in October. Playing each other in October. SoCal as the epicenter of the baseball world.

“Why not?”

Yep, wild pitch.

The Dodgers at least did their part and got to the Fall Classic that year. For the Angels, it is now six seasons since their last playoff appearance (and the only one of Mike Trout’s career to date), 12 since their previous postseason berth, and 18 since that magical night of Oct. 27, 2002, when Darin Erstad squeezed the final out in center field and the Anaheim Angels were champions of the world.

For a baseball region blessed with such great players and great moments through the years, it’s been way too long since a SoCal team won the Commissioner’s Trophy. The oddsmakers and experts seem convinced that if that is to change in 2020’s mad 60-game sprint, it will be a one-sided effort. The Dodgers and Yankees are the favorites to be slugging it out at the end, coronavirus permitting. Most forecasts, including all but one of this publication’s beat writers and columnists, have picked the Angels for third or worse in the AL West.

(You can thank me any time, Angel fans.)

“I haven’t been convincing to this point?” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday from Dodger Stadium, asked to make his case for his team.

That so many are discounting the Angels probably shouldn’t be surprising. The Astros have been to two World Series in three years and the A’s have won 97 games each of the last two seasons. Even with Anthony Rendon and a fully healthy Shohei Ohtani – hitting and pitching – to complement Trout, most of the experts seem to forget the part about past results not being indicative of future performance.

“Our pitching’s somewhat maligned, but I think it’s better than it’s being given credit for,” Maddon said.

“I like the fact that people maybe aren’t evaluating them on the same level. I think there’s a lot more talent than we’re given credit for. Once Rendon is well and Ohtani’s getting into his rhythm, with Michael and the rest of the group we can be a very prodigious offense also. But I like the fact we can catch the baseball, too.”

Maddon noted that he’s been in this type of situation before, staring down the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East in Tampa Bay and then dealing with the Cardinals in the NL East when he was with the Cubs.

“It really comes down to, if we believe we can, then we can,” he said. “If we believe that we cannot, then we cannot. I believe that we can. And from what I’ve seen from our guys, (they) believe so, too.”

And if there were ever a year for an underdog to get out of the gate fast and create problems for the favorites, this would seem to be the year.

One problem for the Angels: They’ll play 10 percent of their schedule against the Dodgers, and that may be a taller order than anything they’ll see in the AL West. The Dodgers took a 106-victory team and added former MVP Mookie Betts, one of the game’s five best players and a player entering his walk year, which simultaneously excites and terrifies Dodger fans. The latter will last unless and until the Dodgers get his signature on a contract.

Betts in the leadoff role only adds to the danger factor of an offense that, in its many permutations, is capable of terrorizing opposing pitching staffs nightly. Consider: Joc Pederson, all but hidden against left-handed pitching last year while slugging 36 home runs with a .876 OPS, actually has looked decent (or at least less than overmatched) against left-handers in the small sample size we’ve seen so far.

What’s the most impressive thing about this club’s offensive approach? Strike zone discipline? Power? Versatility? All of the above?

“I think what I like most is their ability to handle lefties and righties,” Dave Roberts said before Tuesday’s Freeway Mini-Series. “There’s a lot of versatility. Guys value every pitch. We can slug you, and we really appreciate a free pass to first base if that’s the case. And I like the team aspect, the team offensive approach.

“You walk our guys, it’s (potentially) a big inning for us.”

There is this, as well: Betts’ work ethic and approach to the game go a long way toward explaining his success. And so it was that shortly after spring training began, he got up and addressed his new teammates in the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, stressing the urgency of the moment and talking of what it takes to win a World Series.

The last Dodger newcomer to do that in spring training, under slightly more emotional circumstances? Kirk Gibson in the spring of 1988. Look how that turned out.


@Jim_Alexander on Twitter 

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